Stressed out? Regain the Magic of Christmas this Year

Generosity on Christmas
Christmas can be the best and worst time of year for many. On the positive side, we get to spend time with loved ones, eat great food, get a break from work and share in the excitement of the children around us. It can also be incredibly stressful shopping for presents, spending so much money, dealing with family tensions and let’s not even get into what the holidays can do to our waistlines. I have a Christmas challenge this year that promises to alleviate some of that stress and bring a little extra happiness to your life.

The Christmas Challenge

It’ll only take about 15 minutes and I think it’ll have a profound effect on your life. You don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself. There is no way to know unless you do it.

Control Phase

For two days, don’t do anything different. Enjoy your days as you normally would. Do whatever you want with absolutely no consideration for this experiment.

The only thing I want you to do is at the end of each day, before you go to bed, jot down how you felt about the day.

There’s no need to pull a Marcel Proust here,

Just spend 10 to 20 seconds and write down your general feelings for the day.
“Happy but a little tired.”
“Angry and stressed.”
“Lazy and bored”

Whatever you feel, write it down.

Save this piece of paper and use it for all four days of the experiment.

It should only take 10 to 20 seconds per day for two consecutive days.  Not so hard is it?

Test Phase

Now it gets interesting.

I want you to chose a charity you believe in. This is a critical step. Chose a charity that you think is doing a good job and make a donation. If you can only spare $5 or $10, that’s fine. If you’ve had a financially prosperous year, give what you can comfortably afford. The total amount doesn’t really matter for this experiment, In general, a decent amount proportionate to your wealth or income is better.

Make this donation for two days in a row.

Warning– Giving more tends to result in more satisfaction.

(If you don’t know a charity, can I suggest the fantastic work that Dwight Turner is doing with refugees in Bangkok. By giving to In Search of Sanuk, 100% of your money will directly go to providing food, housing and education for some of the most disadvantaged in SE Asia. Dwight works more than full-time on his projects and doesn’t take a salary. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a small donation.)

There is an important part to this. Don’t tell anyone you made the donations. That would corrupt this experiment. (Feel free to share this blog post, of course. That’ll bring you good karma. 🙂 Just don’t mention your donations.)

This is a secret only you can know. Telling others about what you did brings in extra elements of status seeking and peer pressure. That would only confound the experiment. For this one, make sure you’re doing it only for yourself.

If you couldn’t give without keeping it a secret, please start the experiment over again. You did it wrong. 🙂

Again at the end of each day of giving, write down your feelings. Were you depressed? Did you feel good? Were you sad? Maybe proud? Whatever comes to mind, write it down. Only a few words for each day is fine.

That’s it. Maybe 2 minutes of writing and 10 minutes to choose and donate to a charity of your choosing, so far.

Evaluation Phase

On day five, spend 3 minutes going over what you wrote down about your feelings for the previous four days. Which days did you feel the best about yourself? Which days gave you the most vitality? Which days were you most proud of yourself?

Did you feel better about yourself in the days where you didn’t give anything or on the days when you donated some money? It really is that simple.

Don’t analyze or try to rationalize the experiment, only go by your feelings. Did it make you feel better to give or not?

(By the way, evaluating how you feel about your actions is a good way to discover what to focus your time and energy on. Too often we try to rationalize choices, but our bodies are often a better indicator of what really resonates with our beliefs and goals.)

If you don’t feel better about yourself when you are generous, then don’t give to charities. The more you keep for yourself, the happier you will be.

On the other hand, if giving has a positive effect on your emotional state, take some time to think about how to incorporate a little more generosity into your daily life. If you felt good doing it once, how would you feel if you did it all the time?

Giving doesn’t always have to be about money either. It can be more subtle, like having more patience with your children, being friendly to a stranger or not getting angry in traffic. You could try being more understanding or helpful. You could also try to more effectively control your temper or be less judgemental. Those are all forms of generosity.

All giving takes a conscious and deliberate effort to be generous. The ultimate question of this experiment is:

Does being generous make you feel better about yourself?

15 minutes of your life for a experiment that might change your life, or not? You won’t know unless you try.

Let me know how it goes in the comments. Then again that would null the experiment and you’d have to start over. 🙂

Thanks to Mark McGuinness of LateralAction.com for the inspiration and feedback for this post. Mark, I’ll work on the jester.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

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